Oatmeal can be a nutritious addition to a balanced diet to help manage diabetes. Limiting toppings high in sugar or carbs and pairing oatmeal with fiber- and protein-rich ingredients can support healthy blood sugar levels.
Diabetes is a metabolic condition that affects how the body either produces or uses insulin. This makes it difficult to maintain blood sugar in a healthy range, which is crucial for the health of those with diabetes.
When managing blood sugar, it’s important to control the amount of carbohydrates eaten in one sitting, since carbs directly affect blood sugar.
It’s also important to choose nutrient-rich, high-fiber carbohydrates over refined and processed carbs with added sugar. Carb intake targets should be determined on an individual basis with the help of your healthcare provider.
This means that what you eat matters a great deal. Eating foods that are high in fiber and nutrients but low in unhealthy fat and sugar can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, as well as improve your overall health.
Oatmeal offers a host of health benefits and can be a great go-to food for those with diabetes, as long as the portion is controlled. One cup of cooked oatmeal contains approximately 30 grams of carbs, which can fit into a healthy meal plan for people with diabetes.
Oatmeal has long been a common breakfast food. It’s made of oat groats, which are oat kernels with the husks removed.
It’s typically made of steel-cut (or chopped), rolled, or “instant” oat goats. The more processed the oats are, as in the case of instant oats, the faster the oats are digested and the faster the blood sugar can potentially increase.
Oatmeal is usually cooked with liquid and served warm, often with add-ins like nuts, sweeteners, or fruit. It can be made ahead and reheated in the morning for a quick and easy breakfast.
Because oatmeal has a lower glycemic index, it may be a better alternative to other breakfast choices, such as cold cereal with added sugar, breads with added jelly or pancakes with syrup.
Those with diabetes can test blood glucose levels after different types of breakfast foods to see how their blood sugar responds.
Oatmeal can also promote heart health, which is important because people with diabetes are prone to heart disease.
Adding oatmeal to your diet to help manage diabetes has both pros and cons. The pros of adding oatmeal to your diabetes eating plan include:
- It can help regulate blood sugar, thanks to the moderate to high fiber content and lower glycemic index.
- It’s heart-healthy due to its soluble fiber content and the fact it can lower cholesterol.
- It may reduce the need for insulin injections when eaten in place of other carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods.
- If cooked ahead, it can be a quick and easy meal.
- It’s moderately high in fiber, making you feel full longer and helping with weight management.
- It’s a good source of long-term energy.
- It can help regulate digestion.
For many people with diabetes, consuming oatmeal doesn’t have a lot of cons. Eating oatmeal can spike blood sugar levels if you choose instant oatmeal, laden with added sugar, or consume too much at one time.
Oatmeal can have negative effects for those who also have gastroparesis, which is delayed gastric emptying. For those who have diabetes and gastroparesis, the fiber in oatmeal can slow the stomach emptying.
Oatmeal can be a great addition to your diet to help manage diabetes. Especially if you use it to replace other high-carb, high-sugar breakfast choices.
When adding oatmeal to your diabetes eating plan, there are several things to keep in mind:
- Add cinnamon, nuts, or berries.
- Choose old-fashioned or steel-cut oats.
- Use low-fat milk or water.
- Add a tablespoon of nut butter for extra protein and flavor.
- Prepare using Greek yogurt for a protein, calcium, and vitamin D boost.
There are several things you can add to your oatmeal preparation list to increase the positive health benefits of oatmeal.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you should do:
- Eat it with a protein or healthy fat such as eggs, nut butter, or Greek yogurt. Adding 1–2 tablespoons of chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds can add protein and healthy fat, which can further help stabilize your blood sugar.
- Choose old-fashioned or steel-cut oats. These choices contain a higher amount of soluble fiber, which helps better regulate blood sugar and are minimally processed to slow digestion.
- Use cinnamon. Cinnamon is full of antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, and may help reduce the risk of heart disease. It may also improve sensitivity to insulin and may help lower blood sugar levels.
- Add berries. Berries also have antioxidants and good nutrients and can act as a natural sweetener.
- Use low-fat milk, unsweetened soy milk, or water. Using low-fat or soy milk can increase nutrients without adding too much fat to the meal. Water is preferable to cream or higher fat milk for those trying to reduce calorie and fat content. However, keep in mind that the amount of milk used needs to be accounted for toward total carb intake for your meal. Eight ounces of regular milk contains approximately 12 grams of carbs.
- Don’t use prepackaged or sweetened instant oatmeal.
- Don’t add too much dried fruit or sweetener — even natural sweeteners such as honey.
- Don’t use cream.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t use prepackaged or instant oatmeal with added sweeteners. Instant and flavored oatmeal contain added sugar and salt. They also have less soluble fiber. Choose a healthy variety of oatmeal.
- Don’t add too much dried fruit. Just a tablespoon of dried fruit can have a high amount of carbohydrates. Be mindful of your portions.
- Don’t add too much caloric sweeteners. People commonly add sugar, honey, brown sugar, or syrup to oatmeal. These can significantly raise blood glucose levels. You can safely add no- or low-calorie sweeteners.
- Limit or avoid using cream. Use either water, soy milk, or low-fat milk to make oatmeal.
In addition to the blood sugar and heart-health benefits oatmeal offers, it can help with:
- lowering cholesterol
- weight management
- skin protection
- reducing the chances of colon cancer
Unprocessed and unsweetened oatmeal is slow to digest, meaning that you’ll feel full longer. This can help with weight loss and weight management goals. It can also help regulate the skin’s pH, which can reduce inflammation and itching.
When prepared correctly, oatmeal has many advantages that can be beneficial for anyone. Those with diabetes may benefit from replacing other highly refined, sweetened breakfast cereals. As with all carbohydrate sources, be sure to pay attention to portion sizes.
You can start the day with a meal that better regulates blood sugar and provides a long-term source of energy. It’ll also help improve your heart health. By choosing the right add-ins, oatmeal can be a hearty breakfast when you’re living with diabetes.
Always monitor your blood sugar to see how oatmeal affects you. Everyone with diabetes is different. Always talk with your doctor before making any major dietary alterations. Registered dietitians can also help with individualizing a meal plan to meet your specific needs.